German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under fire Sunday over a magazine report suggesting she would be prepared to let Greece exit the euro should a far-left party win a snap Greek election.
Der Spiegel news weekly quoted government sources as saying Berlin sees a Greek exit from the eurozone as "almost inevitable" should the radical leftist Syriza party win the vote and abandon Athens' current austerity course.
Both Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had come to consider that Greece's departure from the single-currency bloc would be "manageable", the magazine said.
The recovery underway in other formerly problem economies such as Ireland and Portugal, the establishment of a permanent eurozone bailout fund and the creation of a banking union had all bolstered Berlin's belief that the contagion from a fresh Greek crisis would be limited, it added.
Greece's parliament was dissolved Wednesday after the assembly failed to agree on a successor to outgoing President Karolos Papoulias in three successive votes.
A snap election has now been called for January 25. Syriza is currently ahead in opinion polls.
German media saw the Spiegel article as an attempt by Merkel and Schaeuble to put pressure on Greeks and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who has vowed to end austerity policies.
Neither Merkel's office nor Schaeuble's finance ministry would confirm or deny the Spiegel report, which drew condemnation from members of both Merkel's conservative CDU party and the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners in her coalition government.
A government spokesman insisted that Berlin was confident Athens would meet its commitments to its creditors under an EU bailout programme.
"Greece has fulfilled its obligations in the past. The government assumes that Greece will continue to meet its contractual commitments," spokesman Georg Streiter told AFP.
But a leading member of the CDU, Christian Baeumler, slammed what he saw as the lackadaisical way in which a possible Grexit was being conjectured.
"If anyone believes a Greek exit is manageable, they should show exactly what costs can expected and make the necessary funds available," Baeumler told the business daily Handelsblatt in its online edition.
- 'Extremely risky' -
Should Greece quit the euro, it would not reimburse its debts and "Germany will have to shoulder a signicant portion of the burden," he said.
The conservative daily Die Welt accused the government of interfering in the Greek election campaign and warned such a tactic was "extremely risky" and could easily backfire.
It might fuel Greeks' discontentment with Germany and thereby boost support for Tsipras and his party, the newspaper suggested.
That would contribute to instability in Greece and might even spark a bank run, where bank customers scramble to withdraw their deposits, it argued.
Bernd Riexinger, head of the opposition leftist Die Linke party, accused Merkel of trying to destabilise Greece ahead of the elections.
In theory, there is no mechanism allowing eurozone countries to withdraw from the single currency.
But there is speculation in Berlin that Greece might abandon its bailout commitments, forcing the European Central Bank to cut off refinancing for Greek banks and compelling Athens to reintroduce the drachma.
The SPD laid the blame for the report at the CDU's door.
"A change in the government's line? More a serious mistake on the part of the CDU," tweeted the deputy head of the SPD's parliamentary faction.
On Saturday, the SPD's secretary of state for European affairs, Michael Roth, had already warned about the consequences of a Greek exit.
"Greece is a member of the eurozone. And must remain so. Nothing must be invoked which would prove to be economically and politically unwise," he wrote on his Twitter account.